Perhaps someone has told you: “I am at the end of my rope.” Or perhaps you’ve said this about yourself. The expression is often said with a sense of exasperation and without a hint of hope or optimism. In hearing this said, we may offer words of encouragement. Other times we may simply give the advice to suck it up. In any case, there seldom is a follow-up conversation to find out what actually happened just past the end of the rope.
A few years ago, I was startled and intrigued when I read the words of Robert A. Johnson, a popular Jungian psychologist: “Wonderful things happen just past the end of your rope.” I have read his work and I respect Robert Johnson. Yet, I wondered if this simple proposition was actually true. Given my life experience and the life stories that have been shared with me, I think it is often true.
As I coach, clients share their life stories. Sometimes, clients are distraught because their law careers have overtaken them. They are swamped with work and can hardly catch their breath. Others have practiced in a specialty area and their practice area is no longer in vogue. Others have been dislocated in a firm merger or closing. Health concerns weigh heavily on others, as do family crises. From their perspectives, these people often report that they are at the end of their rope. But then what happens?
Most often, good things happen. People bounce back. Sometimes they are able to accomplish what had seemed to be out of reach. This phenomenon is not magic, nor the result of wishful thinking. Rather, it’s the result of commitment, imagination and grit. In the midst of a disruption, optimism needs to be cultivated. Opportunities that come along need to be appreciated. Anxiety and uncertainty need to be tolerated. Wakefulness is required. As the poet, Rumi, said: “The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.”
When your life has been disrupted, as all lives have, what has been your pattern? Have you taken the role of the victim and invited others to save you? Have you taken up the common refrain: “The sky is falling; the sky is falling”? If so, how well has that worked for you?
Perhaps you’ve been proactive, cultivating possibility in the midst of the disruption. If so, you’ve likely identified people to support you. Perhaps it’s been a spouse, friend, mentor, coach or therapist. Having such a committed listener can inspire you, hold you accountable, and help you see the opportunities and pitfalls that lie ahead. In addition, you’ve likely been in practices that have helped sustain you. Exercise, rest, prayer, yoga, and meditation are examples of such practices.
From where I stand, it is important to know your own pattern when you find yourself at the end of your rope. Simply put, choice follows awareness. Being self-aware, you can decide what you will do and say, and with whom you will associate. I don’t know anyone who can guarantee the outcome of your efforts, yet I do know that being proactive will make it possible for wonderful things to happen just past the end of your rope. It’s proven true for me and for many of my clients. May it be true for you.